A Belated “New Manager Bounce”

What we saw last night felt like another step closer to Arteta’s “end product”, despite being only three games deep into his tenure. The kind of response he’s received from these players, even at this early stage, really is palpable. There was intensity, desire, organisation and effort, and we’ve seen each of these in every game we’ve played under him. It may not have quite come together against Chelsea but taking one win from these two fixtures is still quite an achievement, particularly given the manner we approached each of them. It’s also one thing losing to Chelsea in such a manner, but the prospect of consecutive home defeats wasn’t an idea I wanted to linger on and it was important to get an early win to allay any premature judgement about his appointment.

In spite of our continued insistence on breaking the worst kind of records – we were on our worst home run in 60 years – we were at least unbeaten in matches at the Emirates on New Years Day heading into the fixture. That didn’t exactly fill me with belief, which also wasn’t helped by the purple patches the likes of Rashford and Martial have been enjoying lately but in reality, Leno was rarely forced into any meaningful saves.

It may be early days, and I really don’t want to let my imagination run wild – we said similar things in the early days of Emery, but last night was really enjoyable and full of interesting individual and collective positives to sink your teeth into.


Standout Individuals

Arteta’s messianic-like ability to resurrect players is the first thing I’d like to address because the turnaround he’s achieved in such a short time-frame is nothing short of impressive.

I, as well as many others, had all but written off Sokratis. He’s a player who I thought was beyond salvaging; even though he looked like a shrewd, stop-gap signing last season with plenty of good performances under his belt. What we’ve largely seen from him this season genuinely made me question if he was a professional footballer and not some bedraggled yokel unwillingly dragged out of the pub to help out. David Luiz has also been a source of ridicule this season, a player seemingly well past his best whose qualities had been reduced to the once-a-season worldie free kick and the occasional 50 yard pass. His performance against Chelsea, and his Man of The Match-winning performance last night would say otherwise, with United’s attack being almost entirely stifled. Besides a few audacious efforts from range, I’m hard pressed in remembering if Leno even had to make a meaningful save, such was the defensive strength. The news of Calum Chambers’ ACL injury (and 9 month prognosis on the sidelines) had me grimacing at the prospect of a return to the wrong-side-of-30 defensive pairing we saw last night but it turns out shape, positioning and actually having a functional midfield in front of you might just be a recipe for a good defence. It also turns out defending properly makes it easier to win football matches.

Xhaka is another player who deserves a great deal of credit after his performance last night. It was far more reminiscent of International Xhaka than Emery’s Xhaka and it’s now clear to see that a double-pivot with Torreira gives us the most balance. The latter impressed for a 3rd game in a row, and I hope to Christ that’s another step in ensuring he stays at the club after some worrying rumours circulating about a possible return to Italy. Emery was disinclined to use him, for some unfathomable reason, but thankfully Arteta can see what’s in front of him. This emerging partnership is something that has been so dearly missing this season, with a lack of consistency in our starting lineup an impasse for any kind of consistency.

Özil is another who seems to have taken to Arteta’s Arsenal like a moth to a flame. He was influential against Chelsea but his influence waned after Jorginho’s introduction. Last night saw him roll back the years with a domineering performance that was closer to what many expected to see on a regular basis after his last bumper contract renewal. He covered more ground than any other Arsenal player, and was the most he’s clocked in more than 2 years. Not one for running just for the sake of it, he also managed 10 ball recoveries, which was the most of any player on the pitch. While I think we were good for a few more goals last night (and I’d have dearly loved to put United to the sword – overdue since the 8-2 and yet to be avenged), the front 3 with Özil combined well again last night and when Lacazette remembers how to shoot, they’re going to do some damage. That being said, Lacazette’s work rate and hold-up play more than made up for another rocky night for him in front of goal. Despite Aubameyang’s best efforts to provide for his pal, it wasn’t to be.

While we’re on the subject, I thought it was another inspired performance from Aubameyang, who seemed to be trying to redefine his own meticulous standards of work rate. The obvious similarities between him and our most notable No. 14 (sorry, Theo) – the pace, the goals, the flair (on and off the pitch) – begin to diverge when we’re without the ball. Although Henry contributed the odd, lunging “strikers” tackle, he would rarely be seen filling in at fullback, something Aubameyang’s been seen doing on several occasions this season when the likes of Saka and Kolasinac make those surging runs forward. He relentlessly harried the United backline as well, and forced more than a few errors out of them with his pace and tenacity. Had he been greedier, the scoreline may not have been so kind but his selfless attitude is commendable and last night felt like a captain’s performance. There are other leaders in this squad – David Luiz and Granit Xhaka are obvious names in this discussion – so to see them all having an influence is great to see.

Ainsley’s also really starting to develop some consistency in his play; the end product is still a work in progress but for a player who identifies as more of a holding midfielder, he seems to have all the attributes of a solid fullback and I’d be interested to know if he’s beginning to change his tune.

On the opposite side, Kolasinac returned from injury with another bullish performance and I’m sure there were more than a few United players who were glad to see the back of him when he was forced off after 69 minutes. Hugely influential in the first goal with his deflected cutback finding the mark, the positivity he displayed in his runs throughout were causing United all kinds of problems. He’s one of he few players I’d argue actually improved under Emery this season (though I’m not sure who to attribute credit to for that), as he’s become far more reliable in defence while making more intelligent ventures into the opposition half. As it stands, Tierney will have his work cut out to usurp him based on his current form (provided his injury isn’t serious).

The four changes to the team we saw against Chelsea were all brought in for different reasons; one returning from injury, another deputising for an injured starter, one returning for reasons we don’t fully yet understand (though both Xhaka and Arteta now seem to be suggesting that he is here to stay) and the last being given an opportunity to make a point. It wasn’t a vintage performance, and he may have only lasted an hour, but Nicolas Pépé made the same kind of statement as he did after curling in two direct free kicks when he bailed us out against Vitória. The numbers speak for themselves:

If that wasn’t enough, he also left Luke Shaw and a few others scrabbling around on the floor like the peasants they are, which is always fun to watch. He’s a player who telegraphs their intention from a mile away – you know he wants to get onto his left foot, so it seems to obvious how to stop him, but more often than not, he got what he wanted and on another day, his other effort would have curled inside the post as well. He was also instrumental in creating the second, with a pre-assist earned from a wicked delivery. Mesut Ozil’s left foot is nothing to turn your nose up at but deliveries like Pépé’s pre-assist aren’t really something in his locker, so it doesn’t hurt to have some variety in set piece specialists. While Reiss Nelson has also impressed under Arteta, we saw plenty from Pépé last night that went some ways in reaffirming his price tag.


Arteta & The Collective

In some ways, looking back at last night makes me frustrated because even at this early stage, it’s plain to see that our players were being largely misused these last 18 months. No one was suggesting that we simply had a bad squad, and you can ask questions about the level of commitment the players applied to Emery’s vision, but that’s as much indicative of Emery’s failings as it is of the players’ disinterest. If a former player (who only left us as a player 3 years ago) is coming in – with no managerial experience whatsoever – and whipping these players into shape, commanding respect and commitment to his project, it really beggars belief when you cast your mind back.

Maybe that’s what makes Arteta special? We don’t know yet. Pep and Arsène are no fools but I don’t think anyone expected such an immediate identity to emerge. It’s natural to draw similarities to City and their tenacious press and regimented system, but replicating so many traits so quickly is quite a feat. While he may not have been the first to coin the term, Pep’s “Five Second Rule” (where you have 5 seconds to try and regain possession) was evident last night and it’s that lack of urgency that has so often been our undoing this season.

There seems to be real unity across the board too; from a pre-match team huddle on the pitch, to the group celebrations both on the pitch and among Arteta and his staff. It was just as clear in their work ethic on the pitch; I can’t remember a performance where I felt every player earned their wages as they did today. Both David Luiz and Sokratis acknowledged in their post-match interview that they weren’t quite able to maintain that intensity for 90 minutes but it’s very much a work in progress. What we saw against Chelsea, not 3 days ago, was built upon today and this time, our organisation saw the job done.

To have so many standout performers on an individual level is also something to really get behind. The defensive partnership, the Torreira-Xhaka pivot, the fantasy team front four, Özil with another 90 minutes under his belt, Pépé’s growing influence, all with a healthy smattering of youth and academy prospects… I’m genuinely excited. Up next, we have an F.A. Cup trip against Championship-leaders Leeds, which will be another kind of test and an opportunity to see some more fringe players given opportunities, and an opportunity to build some momentum.

It’s early days but an emerging pattern seems to be starting games as we mean to go on, with high intensity. The players are obviously still acclimatising to the kind of conditioning that Arteta demands but that doesn’t happen overnight.


Enter Pipe Dream

I’m hoarse and unhappy. I can’t remember a result affecting me so badly in a long time – that double sucker-punch in the last 10 minutes really took its toll. Sat watching from the stands for my first game of the season, I really thought we’d hold on after some admirable defending but it wasn’t to be. That pain is compounded by the realisation that whatever slim, delusional hopes we had of somehow scraping a spot in the Top Four are now a pipe dream.

In retrospect, it wasn’t all bad. We fought them for 84 minutes and as much as Chelsea Rugby Football Club tried to unsettle us and win by hook or by crook, we resisted – in a different manner than we’ve grown accustomed to this season. I thought we maintained our shape for the majority of the game and had coherency to our play, with and without the ball. While this may have waned as the game went on, there was still a lot to like and if we can replicate the kind of performance we gave in the first half, we will start to pick up some points going forward.


To make up for my lack of mid-game note-making, I at least had the added benefit of a bird’s-eye view of the touchline and got some insight into Arteta’s vocal and animated match day operations.

We were unchanged other than Chambers returning from suspension to replace Sokratis, and it was he who was instrumental in opening the scoring, rising highest to flick the ball into danger. Few though his headed goals may be – and his first for Arsenal – Aubameyang has that uncanny, almost uncoachable ability of being in the right place at the right time.

It was hard to say what my expectations even were going into this, but I’ve still come away disappointed because I feel like we deserved at least a point from the game. On this occasion, I’d argue we lay victim to several turning points.


1. The injury to Chambers was untimely and unfortunate given his early involvement, at both ends. Having been on the ascendancy both before and after the goal, the break in play while Chambers received treatment allowed Chelsea to regain some composure and for Lampard to make a tactical change, which proved decisive. Momentum is everything and it really took the sting out of our strong, early start. This is even ignoring the fact that Chambers was replaced by Mustafi, who – if I were to be so bold – is not a like-for-like replacement.

I suppose, since we’re on the subject, I’ll also address the goal that ultimately cost us the game. It was horribly reminiscent of many goals we conceded under Unai Emery; multiple players backing off, not taking the initiative and being decisive, until the opposition have unsurprisingly made their way into our box. It was just all too easy.

Mustafi’s Indecision

To make matters worse, the player that carried the ball for half the pitch into our box was the eventual goalscorer, and yet I can’t for the life of me understand how Mustafi has managed to lose his man in such a short space of time. Despite the fact Tammy Abraham was bearing down on him seconds before, when he then receives the ball back from Willian, it seems to come as a complete surprise to Mustafi, as he does some sort of comedic double-take wondering how on Earth he’s just been duped. He then somehow allows Abraham to take two touches and get his shot away. He was flat-footed, he wasn’t tight and he was ball-watching – not the first time I’ve been similarly critical of him (and several others) for such basic failures this season.

It’s just a really difficult one to swallow because Luiz had played one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt up until that point (and was also responsible for not closing down in the build up), but it just leaves you wondering how we would have managed with Chambers on the pitch instead. Another cry for help in defensive depth which we so dearly lack.

2. Enter Jorginho: A talented player, though one inexplicably left from the starting lineup, Lampard saw the wood for the trees and made amends before it became untenable. This tactical change was another huge turning point and you don’t need to look much further than this to see the impact his early introduction had:

When combined with Mustafi’s proclivity to back off in comparison to Chambers (see below), you begin to see why we became increasingly overrun. Until this change, Chambers’ intensity in closing down and winning the ball back further up the field had taken some pressure off Torreira and Guendouzi. The introduction of Jorginho, coupled with the loss of Chambers, resulted in the Chelsea midfield three of Kovacic, Kanté and Jorginho dominating thereafter.

We can have some cause for complaint as Jorginho should have been given a second yellow card, but so too should Guendouzi in another afternoon of inconsistent officiating. It’s irrelevant because whether Jorginho was still on the pitch wouldn’t have mattered if Leno hadn’t missed the ball. While the circumstances were highly unusual – a rare blunder from the usually resolute Bernd Leno, conceding corners and free kicks is what you get when you give the opposition so much possession. Not like we can really chastise the German, without whom I genuinely think we would be facing a relegation battle.


As for my general feelings in the game, I’d always had a gnawing feeling in the back of my head that something had to change or we’d be punished, particularly as the second half developed. As good as our defending had been, it still felt like a matter of when, not if.

I also think Arteta’s hesitancy to make changes hurt us. We needed change and while depth wasn’t a luxury available to him, I still felt the changes came too late. Joe Willock’s narrow miss that would have extended our lead was unfortunate and Pépé’s late entrance coincided with Chelsea’s second – he could perhaps have made more effort to track back, instead opting to walk as Chelsea broke freely.

The first half was at least a good experience – Özil was a joy to watch, and reminiscent of his former self, back to skinning players, subtle feints, neat passing and drawing fouls, after so often being guilty of disappearing in big games. On this occasion, he was instrumental in much of what we did right in the first half. There was little he could do in alleviating the pressure as the second half developed and he was the one who made way to accommodate Willock after a standing ovation.

I also enjoyed watching our right wing in action. I was surprised by the inclusion of Reiss Nelson, though he was much improved from his performance against Bournemouth and justified the decision. Not afraid to run at the opposition, he linked up well with Özil and Ainsley once more and was also influential in Emerson’s removal, as he struggled to deal with Nelson’s energy.


Looking ahead to New Years Day, we have an equally difficult game and one which now carries added pressure, because Arteta will want to avoid starting a run of home defeats.

We’ll face the same selection problems, as Chambers’ injury appears serious, with Arteta revealing “the first signs are not positive”. It also adds further pressure on finding suitable replacements in the January transfer window. I’m at least encouraged by what I’m seeing but it’s a long road ahead. With the domestic campaign almost pointless at this point, Arteta will likely look to getting to grips with the Europa League for a back-door route to next season’s Champions League.

Until then.

Bournemouth-Arsenal: Laying the foundations

What we saw yesterday was far from perfect, and yet, I didn’t walk away feeling disappointed. It was the first time in as long as I can remember, besides maybe some romp against European minnows, that we actually controlled the tempo for most of the game. Besides the goal, Bournemouth were largely stifled. These kinds of foundations are exactly what were needed with a new appointment, and would suggest that the players are at least taking Arteta seriously. As much as it was strange to see him on the touchline, he didn’t look out of place and hearing him barking orders and corralling players throughout the game showed how much he’s applied himself to the role. We already knew he was an impassioned man after his emotional sendoff (seen below), but there’s also a steeliness to his demeanour – all important qualities in my book.

It’s a testament to the fickle nature of football; once a chief tenet ingrained over the course of Wenger’s 22 year tenure, dissected in the space of 18 months. It’s easy to first point to the fans and their bipolar opinions but a team’s fortune can just as easily change. Barring their drubbing at the hands of the league’s runaway leaders last night, Leicester’s acquisition of Brendan Rogers is a pertinent example.

It’s fair to say that we should expect to control the tempo against a team like Bournemouth, especially given their recent form, head-to-head record and injury problems, but having not done so for some time, it’s important to get back to basics. That may not have carried over to Reiss Nelson and Bakayo Saka and their wayward (putting it very kindly) crossing, but that can be worked on in training.


I had my doubts over Nelson’s ability to deliver the ball after some dreadful corners against Everton where he often failed to beat the first man, but yesterday was quite the opposite – often massively over-hitting the ball to the other touchline. It’s a shame because the quality of his final ball marred what was otherwise quite a tidy game for him. He managed to beat some players, gave the Bournemouth left back a really hard time of it and developed some good combination play with Özil and Lacazette predominantly. Even threw in a Roulette at one point. The problem is playing from the wing, his end product is where the buck stops and it’s what can begin to define a player. Fortunately, he’s in luck with Arteta at the helm, who was by all accounts hugely influential in Raheem Sterling’s emergence.

Pépé’s starting snub presumably was to ensure his readiness for Chelsea and/or United but this harkens back to the dilemma of how you prioritise winnable games. Keown, ever the militant spokesman, has often claimed that our strongest team should always be played, irrespective of fixture congestion. I take this with a pinch of salt because as much as I can relate to, and understand the willingness to always play your strongest lineup, there’s a degree of finesse which maybe escapes him (expected for anyone who saw the man play), as does the intensity of the modern game. It’s far too early to try and second-guess Arteta’s strategy in such instances but the fact that yesterday felt like “two points lost” plays it’s part.

The Bournemouth game was far more winnable than either of the aforementioned, so should we be setting our standards lower and looking to ensure these 3 points and go from there rather than manage the squad for some kind of “point maximisation” approach? I’d be interested to know what kind of directive has been given to Arteta – what do they expect from him this season and how much financial support will he be given in January? More to the point, I’d be just as interested to learn what kind of realistic expectations Arteta has. At the half way point, we find ourselves in 11th (which I can scarcely believe), 8 points off the Top Four and yet only 6 points off the relegation zone. A win against Chelsea would close that gap to 5 points and given their slump in form, it’s anyone’s game.

That being said, Pépé’s sporadic starts and limited minutes even from the bench – now under 3 managers – may point to something more behind the scenes. Not content with just one inclusion from a no-nonsense former defender, Lee Dixon commented earlier in the season about Pépé’s lackadaisical pre-match warmup, so it may not be unreasonable to suggest he’s not the most committed trainer. Given Arteta’s preliminary demands, this may go some ways in explaining any subsequent absences. Our starting lineup against Chelsea will be telling. What stood out to me most yesterday was having an actual, discernible shape. So often this season, our distinct lack of shape – particularly in midfield – has really compounded our obvious defensive shortcomings. We’ve become accustomed this season to high energy, low impact performances from midfield, with high rates of turnover, little cover in front of the defence and a lack of pressure which often allowed the opposition to saunter into our half unchecked. It doesn’t take much to cast your mind back to the kind of panicky and chaotic approach we had without the ball – it was bordering on primal.

I also thought Bournemouth were lucky to escape a red card after another dangerous, scissoring challenge on Pépé. He’s had quite the baptism of fire in many ways since arriving in England, but I still wish more was done to protect players – not just those in the red and white – from those kinds of challenges. They’re not inherently malicious but they’re so clumsy and tangled that they invariably cause a few serious injuries every season. The fact that it was from behind makes it even worse than last week’s and yet both escaped punishment.


Lacazette is another player who can’t be neglected in discussion after yesterday. Despite his continued importance in holding the ball up with his back to goal, still-tireless workrate and importance in serving as the focal point of our attacks, yesterday was a really bad day at the office. Already off-colour, I can’t remember a more wasteful performance from him . Often so clinical, he was far from it yesterday, which also brought an air of indecision – so often a unfortunate symptom of a player down on confidence. The Chelsea game, should he feature, will at least provide him the kind of scenario he seems to really thrive in – a home fixture against a big team.

Being that I’ll be in the stands, I’d love nothing more than for Sunday to be the start of his redemption at Arsenal.

Statistical Breakdown

Another positive shot differential. A positional map that somewhat resembles a manager’s crudely drawn formation on a whiteboard before the game.

Positional report (ARSENAL vs Bournemouth)
BournemouthArsenal
Shots1217
On Target42
Pass Success (%)7887
Passes (Total)397621
Average Pass Streak46
Possession (%)3961
Match Breakdown vs. Bournemouth (Source: WhoScored.com)

Points of Interest

  • Pépé completed 3 dribbles to Nelson’s 2, despite coming on in the 82nd minute. By no means a criticism of Nelson, rather highlighting Nelson’s ability to also beat players.
  • Played with a higher defensive line in comparison to some of Emery’s final games in charge
  • 15 of 17 attempts were from open play – another distinct deviation from our previous system under Emery
  • Low number of attempts on target more attributable to individual wastefulness than poor quality of chances created

Another day to forget

If you were fortunate enough to have more pressing matters than watching the football this afternoon, you might see the result and think something along the lines of “it’s not that bad” or “that’s about what I expected”. In reality, City were merciful (or maybe just apathetic). After they cruised to a three-goal lead in emphatic fashion, they played out the game with the handbrake on – and still created more chances than we did. For comparison, our only shot on target came 33 seconds into the game. For a team with no clean sheet in 10 games in all competitions, we didn’t seem overly interested in, or able to threaten their suspect back-line. The result was our fifth consecutive league defeat at their hands, our longest losing streak since 1983-1985 against City’s rivals in red.

If that’s not a clear enough summation, this should tell you everything.


The Match

On paper, it was the kind of lineup I was hoping to see: bold in including Martinelli – a change I was excited about but one you could understand if Lacazette was preferred, and seeing the same front 4 as against West Ham – sticking with whatever is even slightly working. The centre-back question essentially boiled down to who would be the least damaging partner to Chambers.

As for City, you’d think we would have anticipated a reaction to their recent domestic setback after they dismantled Watford 8-0 earlier in the season. Any antipaction was short-lived though, as De Bruyne’s first was the second fastest goal conceded at the Emirates. I’ve pointed in recent weeks as to how lethargic we are in the opening stages, and that better teams would punish us and it was just the case with someone as talented as De Bruyne. As ridiculous as the finish was – the most calm yet violent side-footed half-volley I’ve ever seen – it was another disaster at the back. Fernandinho ghosted into our half, found Jesus, Chambers showed him wide but didn’t get tight enough and De Bruyne was completely unmarked after Martinelli failed to track him. You can chalk that one up to not being switched on fully, but that was textbook Arsenal.

A cynic might question Kolasinac’s commitment as he appeared to duck out of the way, but the foetal-spread Raheem Sterling knew what was coming. It was hit with the kind of power where you just instinctively get out of the way – the kind that perhaps even the Adams and Campbells wouldn’t have blocked. Then again, those kinds of players wouldn’t have allowed the chance in the first place.

The second was just all too easy. Freddie’s post-match interview said as much:

“One of the goals, we had 5 defenders and they’re only two.. and they still scored.”

Looking back at it again, I’m almost in disbelief. Guendouzi jogging back the entire way, ball-watching from start to finish. Sokratis ball-watching the entire time, only turns to look behind him as the ball is played across goal to the unmarked Sterling. Kolasinac was closest but was wrong-footed by the slight deflection on the cross. For the other two, it was really indefensible though. I thought Guendouzi’s time on the sidelines would have given him some time for reflection and to be grateful of the trust hes’s been afforded this season but today was another glaring showcase of how far short he still is. I really don’t care for the diving and theatrics from him and can’t help but feel someone needs to take him to one side and stamp it out. For someone with such a reputable engine, he was ineffective and negligent today. He was even more culpable for the third, allowing De Bruyne to easily slip by goalside and the game was dead and buried. You can raise questions as to why none of the defenders felt the need to close him down but that would be too sensible.


One caveat of their third goal I’d like to address was the fact that at the time, we were down to 10 men while Kolasinac was being treated after an industrial challenge from Rodri – a staple of Pep Guardiola’s management. Rodri was booked for what was essentially a professional foul, after a powerful run from Kolasinac. In the eyes of the law, that was enough, but in reality, it was Arsenal who suffered. After Kolasinac limped off, Saka wasn’t quite ready. Why no one instructed him to do so when Kolasinac was first receiving treatment, I don’t know, but play resumed and you wonder if an extra man would have made a difference (admittedly unlikely given the defence plays like butter scraped over too much bread even with 11 men on the pitch). We don’t know if it would have but it doesn’t sit right with me.

The fact that Pépé almost missed today’s game because of a similarly cynical and industrial challenge last week makes me wonder if these kinds of challenges should carry retroactive punishment in the event of a professional foul injuring a player. I’m fine with a tug of the shirt and accepting a booking to stop a counter attack but in a time where more protective measures have been introduced for players, I can’t help but feel this would be another logical consideration. I don’t quite know how to introduce a retroactive punishment but perhaps FIFA’s new Head of Global Football Development has some thoughts on the matter. It’s one thing that Stoke no longer contaminate the Premier League but there’s more than a few teams who get away with it on a weekly basis.


Bernd Leno kept up his usual heroics with one of the saves of the season, tipping the ball onto the post after another audacious De Bruyne effort. I dread to think where we’d be without him and he’s been a great bit of business. This all unfolded before we’d even reached half time. I’m not sure where you even begin addressing the team at half time, but whatever Freddie said, we at least managed to plug the leak and keep the scoreline somewhat respectable.

Not much changed and arguably the worst moment of the game came not 10 minutes into the half. Kevin De Bruyne, having received the ball in his own half, was allowed to travel with the ball to the edge of our box and take a shot. That to me strikes me as something fundamentally wrong in our understanding of how to defend, or what football is even about. When a player, who is arguably among the top three players in the league, who’s already scored two fantastic goals and almost got a third, is running at your goal, why is your first thought to continually back off and give him the opportunity? What is going on in their heads to say that backing off is the best course of action?

Before we’d even reached the hour mark, Mesut Özil made way for Emile Smith-Rowe and he did his best Xhaka-lite impression, opting to kick his gloves in frustration instead. The reception to his substituion wasn’t nearly as unanimous, but given the off and on-field events surrounding him of late, he wasn’t happy. Highly self-critical though he may be, it felt like there was more to his outburst today, with Freddie assuring that they “will deal with it later”.


The Gulf-State franchise demonstrated the gulf in quality that the Arsenal Powers-That-Be have to try and bridge. If that means poaching their unproven assistant coach who used to play for Arsenal to replace our unproven, former assistant coach who used to play for Arsenal, then so be it. Not that City are even remotely in our ballpark at the moment. The title race may be insurmountable for them at this point, but they’re still years ahead of us and made it look all too easy today.

Scraping the barrel for consolations, I’m hard pressed to even find any worth mentioning. Not conceding in the second half while City toyed with us, maybe? The fact that Bernd Leno is one of the best goalkeepers in the league? Emile Smith-Rowe making his Premier League debut? It’s slim pickings.

We next find ourselves away to Everton, in a similar predicament to us. Whether we’ll have a new head coach by then is anybody’s guess.

Until then.

Rotten to the core

Immediate Afterthoughts

Where do I even start? A home loss to a team starting the day in 16th place. Winless in 9 (NINE!), a record stretching back to March 1977 (courtesy of @Orbinho).When Xhaka stormed off the pitch some 5 weeks ago, I said that our problems ran deeper than just one man. The same can be said after the departure of Unai Emery, such is the magnitude of these dire straits.

The sheer range and depth of our problems is just staggering. Confidence, mentality, ability, fight, intelligence, positioning, formation, awareness. It feels endless. If that wasn’t bad enough, we even had to endure Alan Pardew’s stupid, smug, jowly makeup-caked face as he bleated on about our problems.

A deflated but calm Freddie Ljungberg said after the game that the players are low on confidence and that they should be starting games in the same manner that we started the second half. What he can do about that on such an indefinite basis remains to be seen because these players appear to have the collective mental fortitude of a toddler.

In some ways, it’s almost redundant to talk about the game because for all of the brighter moments, there was so much familiarity to the way in which the game unfolded. I’m still going to, for what it’s worth, but this was the first time in a while where I was genuinely surprised by what this team can do. I actually underestimated just how bad things were – I chalked up the game against Norwich as Freddie not having enough time to prepare, with the players still licking their wounds from Thursday’s finale and Friday’s announcement. What we saw last night was confirmation that things are very wrong from top to bottom within the club and no amount of club legends being thrown into the mix seem to be able to stop this hemorrhage. I really thought Emery going and a former player of Freddie’s stature would the catalyst for change, but another barren crowd and mostly timid performance has put that to bed.


The Match

I had plenty of mixed feelings before the game about the starting lineup.

Sokratis coming back in for Mustafi was the “safe” change, reverting back to our “best available” pairing of the season despite Sokratis’ generally woeful form.

Torreira in for Guendouzi was a call for control. For Xhaka’s faults, he can distribute the ball effectively in the right circumstances and having Lucas Torreira alongside him shoulders some of that burden. That’s not to say Guendouzi is incapable of doing so, but it is a more natural responsibility for Torreira. Xhaka ended up having one of his better performances and bailed us out on more than one occasion.

The front four remained unchanged and Pépé’s omission was perhaps the biggest surprise. After Norwich, I was sure he’d start – eased back into a first team starting with a routine home game against struggling Brighton. Hah.

The warning signs were there; Brighton are no pushovers away from home, giving Liverpool a run for their money at the weekend and it was more of the same last night. They created more chances, were far more assured across the pitch and most importantly, they actually took their chances.


The calm before the storm (the early stages)

Although the foundations were laid against Norwich, we did at least attempt to press in the early stages. I’d almost become accustomed to opposition players just striding into our half and making unchallenged passes under Emery and seeing us harrying their goalkeeper and back-line time and again was great to see.

What VAR are doing instead of watching Lacazette’s shirt being removed, I don’t know but as VAR giveth last week, this week they giveth not. Not much changed for the second or third corners but there we go.

Although there were a few promising moves going forward , the defensive frailties were still there and Brighton were perhaps unlucky to not be ahead at one point. It’s hard to say whether it was down to good play by Brighton – they had quite a lot of success on the left wing with some good trickery – or by Arsenal being Arsenal. It didn’t take long for confirmation.

There was a creeping sense of unease as Brighton grew into the game as the Emirates echo chamber took hold. As is so often the case, that pressure materialised into a goal and I can’t say Brighton didn’t deserve it.

For all of his energy, Joe Willock was somewhat of a pariah in the first half, struggling to make an impact with some lax passing and mistimed runs.

It did eventually spark a bit of life and the best Arsenal chance of the half fell to Joe Willock but he was unable to place it either side of the keeper. His poor first half was epitomised in the closing minutes after failing to find Aubameyang, as the captain gave him a right earful in response.

I’m never sure how to react when I see that on the pitch, especially from your captain to a player as raw as Willock. The nature vs. nurture dichotomy is just as apparent in football and we’ve seen it before with the likes of Henry, who was no stranger to publicly airing his displeasure. Willock certainly should’ve done better but Aubameyang’s reaction was one of real frustration. Needless to say, Willock was the sacrificial lamb to accommodate Pépé at half time.


Pépé’s involvement and quality was immediately obvious and you couldn’t help but wonder why he wasn’t starting. The words on everyone’s lips.

The goal came from an unlikely source – a near-post header reminiscent of Olivier Giroud and not something I thought was in Lacazette’s locker. I’d even been thinking it was strange that he’d had been on the end of a few near post-headers in the first half but this was the best of the bunch, even if it was half-bundled in via the post/keeper/defender/Kolasinac. I really thought that would be “game on”, and although there was a resurgence, it proved to be ultimately short-lived.

Contrary to our tendencies under Emery, instead of resting on our laurels after a goal, we did manage to keep up that pressure for a time. Even after the goal, seeing Kolasinac frogmarch the ball back to the centre-circle was a good sign of fight and I thought we had actually – finally – woken up. I’ve been critical of him on more than one occasion this season, not for anything overly damning – more his unpredictability and inconsistent quality in the final third – but there was so much to like about his tenacity and drive.

The game got all a bit nuts after that. Pépé grew into the game more and more, Sideshow Bob put the ball away with aplomb only to be ruled offside (eventually), there were tackles flying in all over the shop. The question was whether we could capitalise on this ascendancy.

I stupidly thought it was going to be one-way traffic. Like teams of old who would relentlessly build momentum when chasing games, throwing on 4-5 forwards and going for it. It was Brighton who found the quality as this team again fell victim in conceding against the run of play. Credit where it’s due, it was a good header. The build-up was another entry of Sunday League defending though and we couldn’t have made it easier for them. Returning to the starting lineup, I thought Sokratis would be sharp as a tack but the way he was drawn out of position so far by Brighton was just so, so basic – the kind of ball-chasing you see in an under-8s game. I really thought that was hardwired into professional footballer’s brains.

(Funnily enough, the same could be said of the other game of the night, as Jonjo Shelvey beat the offside trap while the Sheffield back-line stood there with their hands up. Play to the whistle…)

As we found ourselves chasing the game again, Brighton controlled the play, retained possession and defended as a unit. They even came close to extending their lead if not for Bernd Leno. Gabriel Martinelli had another brief spell and was the closest to bringing the game level but he didn’t have much time to make an impact. He is one who will be struggling to understand why he’s not starting at this point because both Lacazette and Aubameyang were poor last night, with the Frenchman’s form – irrespective of goals – being a real cause for concern. This team struggles to score goals, especially from open play as our last 3 goals have all come from set pieces, so I can understand the frustration if they feel like they’re not getting service but I just didn’t sense a willingness to make things happen themselves. Instead, it was more sulkiness, clashing with teammates and wasted opportunities.

Where do we go from here?

When it rains, it pours and our December schedule looks nothing short of painful on paper.

West Ham (A)9/12
Man City (H)15/12
Everton (A)21/12
Bournemouth (A)26/12
Chelsea (H)29/12

As we found to our misfortune last night, how things look on paper is rarely what you end up with – I’m sure looking at the teamsheet and opposition last night, few could have predicted that result. That being said, it’s not looking great.


Freddie should still be thinking about what his best lineup and formation is. It may have eluded Unai Emery, something which really exacerbated the confusion we see on a weekly basis, but for me, that’s a priority. Picking the most in-form players, in their preferred positions. That means dropping Lacazette, starting Torreira (again), molding a front-line around Özil and finding a defensive partnership that works. Luiz-Mustafi and Luiz-Sokratis are both busts, neither of which I ever want to see again so why not give Chambers a chance in the middle? We can’t get any worse there so I don’t see harm in trying.

Looking forward, Pépé and Martinelli have to be starting. Pépé’s ability to beat players and work chances in the box – even his set-piece quality – is something we clearly need. Martinelli is one of the few players who shows real fight every time he’s played and while I don’t want to see his confidence dragged down to the depths of the rest of the team, I feel like a run of games is nothing short of what he’s deserved and really could turn our fortunes around with a few goals. “Competition for places” is a phrase bandied around a lot and with good reason – players can never be complacent about their position in a team. If you’re in the starting lineup, you need to earn that spot every week with your performance on matchdays and in training and there’s more than a few who look a little bit too complacent for my liking.

Looking further up the chain, KSE are another kettle of fish and since we are powerless in doing anything about them, I prefer to leave them out, however frustrated about them I feel about them and their continued involvement with our club. I do wonder what’s going through Raul, Edu, and Vinai’s heads, though. For starters, I’d love to know their reasoning for waiting until after the international break because that really hasn’t helped matters. We have no idea as to what kind of timeframe Freddie is working on – he’s obviously refused to disclose any details, but he is at least taking every game as it comes. Away to West Ham on 9th December doesn’t leave much room to work with, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Until next time.


Photo courtesy of Football.London

Apathetic Arsenal

Preview

Even in the darkest years of Wenger, a disappointing loss, or run of fixtures would never spill over into the next fixture. I would always have some slither of hope; on some occasions there was an air of inevitability to results, (the struggles against other big teams, European knockout stages, to name a few) but on their day, they could still pull it out of the bag. They say it’s the hope that kills you and that was a perfect summation towards the end of Le Prof’s tenure.

That feeling has genuinely vanished at this point. Not only has Saturday’s performance and result left a halitosis-equivalent aftertaste, I don’t feel at all rejuvenated ahead of tonight’s game. It feels like another ordeal we have to sit through and endure. As if the spark of European football wasn’t already watered down enough as we languish away in the Europa League, I don’t see any real positive outcome. A win would perhaps paper over the cracks and buy Emery another week in the eyes of the board, which means we have to sit through another league game. A draw or a loss means nothing in the context of our Europa League progression and it seems unlikely that the board would see a pointless cup fixture as the final straw.

We don’t know what’s been said this week behind closed doors, but David Ornstein’s revelation and choice of words might be the start of a changing tide; we can only hope “as things stand” really is as precarious as it sounds.


I don’t particularly care for Emery’s tone ahead of tonight’s game either; his plea for unity is likely falling on deaf ears at this point:

“My wish is tomorrow that the supporters and every supporter helps the team because we need them.”

Unai Emery, self-eulogy

By all accounts, our support has been patient and commendable this season. The overwhelming consensus at the start of the season was one of optimism in lieu of our active transfer dealings and the expectation that we would really crack on under Emery after a patchy (putting it kindly) first season. The away support has been flawlessly incorrigible as ever and although we have seen a breakdown at home in recent weeks, this is a symptom of our form rather than a cause and Emery would do well to appreciate the difference. As it stands, he will only alienate them further with nonsensical statements like this. Fans are fickle and reactionary; they don’t set the tone, they just respond to it. I know from experience at the Emirates that we’re a nervous bunch but the absolute best remedy is to get their act together on the pitch and the rest will follow. At the end of the day, fans pay good money to be entertained and hauling yourself to a midweek game after work, bracing the weather and unpredictable public transport, only to sit through more of the same dross won’t earn you any favours.


The Match

Exodus is a strong word (and I’m not talking about the entire Frankfurt contingent being absent) but there was a staggering number of fans missing. It’s the sort of turnout you get at reserve games.


Pushing David Luiz into a more advanced role felt like Emery playing one of his last, desperate hands as manager. Luiz struggled in the early stages and despite the knock he received, was still careless in possession on more than one occasion prior. If only Emery had an established, fit, holding midfielder at his disposal who could’ve deputised…

The injury eventually caused him to make way for Guendouzi but it was hardly a like for like swap. I was interested to see how we’d play with the David Luiz experiment but it wasn’t to be and we were subjected to the usual high-octane performance we’ve come to expect from the teenager.

Frankfurt have also been poor domestically and the manner in which they defended set pieces pointed to a team there for the taking but with the exception of the odd half-chance from set pieces, we still struggled to create meaningful chances. The Arsenal front three had Frankfurt’s back-line dead to rights for pace but the lack of creativity behind made them suffer, as tidy and adventurous as Joe Willock was in possession. For all of his qualities, he doesn’t quite fit the bill (yet) for such a position, despite Emery’s insistence on playing him there.

That being said, the best chances came from Saka and himself and although they’ve still got that rawness, there’s so much to like about them and they play with the kind of confidence you see in comfortably established players. The former’s contribution for the opener was crucial (if a little fortunate in missing the ball for Aubameyang), following some good wingplay from Martinelli. The first half was a bit of a non-entity but I’ll always enjoy a goal.


After a bright start, we assigned our first “opposition goal quota” of the evening to Kamada. It was a good turn and better finish but as is so often the case, we give the opposition all of the time in the world and that is what you get.

Naturally, we conceded again only 9 minutes later in similar fashion. I joke about having a quota, but there’s a reason we average almost 2 goals conceded a game this season. Kamada has already shown his quality so why everyone was asleep for the second ball is beyond me. If there’s one thing this team thrives on, it’s capitulation; perhaps a worrying byproduct of Baku.

Is that down to individuals not doing their job? Is it by design that no one can see the danger? It really is absolute schoolboy stuff and Martinez was understandably livid.

For all of the faults of this team, there’s a kindness to them that’s commendable – we have an uncanny ability to make bad teams look good. After going ahead, Frankfurt suddenly remembered how to play football and became a lot more organised at the back. You can point to injuries limiting Emery’s ability to change the game as he’d like but we’ve seen it all before. More to the point, he wouldn’t need to change anything if the situation wasn’t so dire in the first place. Such was our kindness, we offered little in the way of a fight to try and get something from the game but it’s hardly surprising that our confidence is at rock-bottom. The most fight I saw was Xhaka’s incredulous reaction at being penalised for a nothing-challenge, his grounds for dissent running deeper than just that moment.

For all of that fight, it didn’t stop Xhaka from fraternising after the game, seemingly unfazed by another disasterclass. At this point, it seems that he’s completely checked out. It made for stark contrast to Tierney and Chambers as they walked off the pitch, visibly frustrated as they seemed to hash out their issues.


Just as I was at the start of the night, I go into the next game feeling empty. I have no confidence that the right decision will be made, because it should’ve been made already. Likewise, I have no confidence that we’ll put in a good performance at the weekend. If I’m feeling like that, I dread to think what the players must be going through.

We can only wait and see what happens but I’m not going to lose sleep trying to second-guess the minds of the powers that be in North London. They’d do well to take note of Martin Keown’s impassioned and borderline venomous post-match tirade. Everyone really is at their wit’s end.


Judgement Day for Unai (?)

Foreword

We’re going to get down into the dirty details but I first wanted to just say that I’ve made a conscious effort to write this differently than usual today. Normally when I write an article, I’ll have a few pre-match thoughts jotted down, then I’ll make notes during the match and then write the majority after the game and “shape the narrative” from there. I didn’t want to do that today because of what’s at stake – I wanted to avoid making a knee-jerk assessment and instead be as objective as possible with a clear mind, to really see the wood for the trees. I’m still going to share what I felt before the game because I think it’s important to compare expectations to results, but there we go.


Judgement day for Unai. Even in the darkest depths of Arsène’s tenure, I can’t ever recall a game where part of me hoped for a loss. I’m sure this will divide opinion – “how can you call yourself a fan if you want your team to lose?” – that kind of thing. I just don’t think we can afford to be so short-sighted at this stage.

Cast your minds back to the start of the season – the vast majority were filled with optimism, we did some great business in the transfer window, we were gleefully rubbing our hands at the problems around us (Chelsea’s transfer ban, Sp*rs’ lack of signings, Raul’s apparent subterfuge going from Fraser and Zaha to one of Europe’s most sought-after prospects). This was the kind of opening the club needed to achieve what it failed to do last season and really press on.

The Match

Why Bellerín was starting and Tierney wasn’t is a question only Emery will know the answer to. It’s been plain to see that our Cockney Spaniard has been a few weeks behind Tierney since coming back from injury, and yet the latter was again sidelined – this isn’t even considering the fact that he’s been one of our most consistent performers since joining us. Pépé will also have felt hard done by but someone had to be sacrificed to accommodate the 3-5-2.

After a nervy start, the usual hallmarks followed; unforced errors, Leno almost being charged down by the likes of Vardy, huge gaps in the middle of the park and too many chances for comfort afforded to Leicester. There were some glimpses of promise, with the team actually managing to thread more than two passes together in the opposition half on several occasions but Schmeichel was never seriously challenged.

The real eye-opener was the ease at which Leicester’s centre-backs and deep-lying midfielders could waltz into our half unchecked. I don’t know if it was a circumstance of them playing a higher line (which was successfully deployed in stopping Aubameyang’s disallowed goal) but time and again, they were able to come into our half with little to no pressure. The lack of organised press continues to cause us problems that just shouldn’t exist in a “Big 6 or thereabouts” Premier League team.


There was daylight between the two sides in their performances and the result, and now there is daylight between the two in the league standings – 9 points off the top four and it’s only November. The implications for the prospects of our season are damning. There’s no doubt Leicester are a team in form; they had the better chances in the first half and that was before Jamie Vardy had even had a sniff of goal. He loves scoring against us and that’s even when he’s not in red-hot form, so the manner in which Leicester took the lead was as textbook as it gets. For all the fight we’d shown in the second half, it was eviscerated in an instant and compounded moments later when Maddison dealt the final blow to Arsenal’s day and quite possibly Emery’s tenure. Credit where credit’s due and it pains me to say, but the two Leicester goals had all the hallmarks of classic Arsenal goals. Clinical finishing off the back of some slick one-touch football.

Where I tried to refrain from knee-jerk hysteria, the same cannot he said for Emery’s substitutions – another entry in the book of in-game mismanagement. For all of the renewed fight the team had shown in the second half, the game becoming stretched hardly suited us any more than it did them and you felt the game was poised for a change. Instead, Emery felt the best time to introduce Pépé and Willock was after the damage had been done.

It points to quite an interesting contrast between the two managers – the difference between being proactive and reactive. Leicester’s two substitutions preceded their two goals by 8 minutes and 1 minute respectively; I’m not saying there’s necessarily any causality between the changes and Leicester going ahead but football (especially big games) is often determined by the fine margins and having an edge can be what it takes. Just like Lacazette missing from 6 yards where Vardy did not.

Emery’s reactionary form of management has long been touted: his supposedly meticulous attention to the opposition each week, carefully tinkering and tailoring his team accordingly. It’s not the first time he’s made panicked substitutions when the horse has already bolted. For all of Wenger’s disdain for in-game pragmatism – making his routine substitutions just after the hour mark if things weren’t going to plan – he would only resort to desperation if we really needed a goal. Throwing on 5 forwards and hemming the opposition in for the last 20 minutes type-thing – we saw it time and again. Yesterday, our last shot of the game came in the 53rd minute.

The thing I’m still really grappling with is what good is a defensive setup if not only do we still concede too many goals and chances, but we also have a complete inability to score any?! From where I’m standing, we were lucky to only lose 2-0. On another day, Maddison’s free kick may dip under the bar, Vardy makes contact on the first half chance, Ndidi doesn’t hit the bar from point blank range. By comparison, for the second game in a row, we scrounged a single shot on target. We’re just so painfully, painfully dull and ineffective.

Aftermath

The harsh reality is that Arsenal are now as close to 19th place as they are to Leicester and Chelsea, who at this point appear to be the teams most likely to secure the remaining two qualification spots (in terms of both league standings and performances/management).

Despite this, reports this morning from David Ornstein suggest that (more or less) Emery is safe:

As we know, what’s disclosed publicly and what’s going on behind the scenes are two very different things. The likes of Raul and Edu were lucky enough to watch the game in person yesterday and if Unai remains, there can be no question where the buck really stops. For all of their acumen shown in “beating the transfer market”, this decision is the true insight into their ability to get us back on track. They really have lost the plot if they’re unequivocally giving him to the summer, though. To my understanding, Emery’s contract stipulates a 2 + 1 scenario, whereby if we secure Champion’s League football, he’ll be rewarded with another season but if not, we part ways. It seems inconceivable to think they’re happy to allow Unai to see out the terms of his contract whether he qualify for the Champion’s League or not though – it’s early November and we can see clear as day how far this team under Emery is from the others fighting for the top four.

It’s going to be a telling few days and weeks. Some have wondered whether the international break was the perfect opportunity for a clean break. If that’s not to be, we host Southampton and anything short of a resounding victory will be an abject failure.


Credit: for several informative stats used in today’s piece and his tireless work in bringing damning evidence to our troubled times@Orbinho

Arsenal 1:1 Vitória – A Wet Blanket

A wet blanket: to dampen the enthusiasm or enjoyment of a person, place or thing.


In some ways, it was lucky the game was moved to an afternoon slot because I’d have been struggling to stay awake otherwise – a really drab affair, even by our free-falling standards.

Contrary to one of Arsène Wenger’s favourite mantras of taking things “one game at a time”, however nice of a distraction the Europa League has been this season, Emery’s Cup Final on Saturday was always a lingering distraction itself. Our domestic malaise even managed to find its way into our European travels this time.

The venue might’ve been intimidating with the boisterous home support and less than ideal playing conditions but nothing about Vitória’s play bar them hitting the woodwork justified such an indifferent performance. They were often sloppy in possession, reckless in their challenging and still seemed the more likely to score, for all of their speculative efforts.

Not a single attempt in 15 minutes to Vitória’s 5 – home or away, the story’s the same. After Rob Holding’s effort in the 22nd, it wasn’t until the last kick of the half that we had our second. With a 36 year old keeper in the opposition goal, on a wet surface, you’d think we might’ve been a bit more eager to test him. 80 minutes it took to even register an actual shot on target – thank the footballing gods that was enough to score from – a Mustafi header from another good delivery by Pépé. I’m just glad the travelling away fans had something to cheer about. It’s a strange timeline we’re in when the best chances of the night fell to our dejected German, who actually had quite a tidy night as part of our back three. Speaking of which…

A Change in Heart (of defence)

Three at the back or five at the back, depending on how conservative a manager you think Emery is: he’s dabbled with 3 centre-backs in the past and I wondered if it was a trial run for Leicester, as the Europa League has so often been a safe space to escape our domestic woes.

I can’t say much changed – Vitória’s narrow and organised midfield were quick to stifle any play as soon as we encroached their half. The midfield pairing of Ceballos and Willock were energetic enough but as ever, we don’t quite have the nous to open teams up.

There were some glimpses of tidy link-up play, with some combinations between Pépé and Ainsley/Saka and Martinelli. Whether these players can form effective partnerships will be an important part of their development – sometimes its not a case of how good the individual is but how well they can perform in a system. We’ve seen the rebirth of players like Jordan Henderson, once famously dismissed by Sir Alex Ferguson because of his “funny gait”, going on to captain Liverpool to a Champion’s League victory (okay, it was against Sp*rs) and narrowly missing out on a domestic title.
Emery’s single biggest conundrum seems to be how exactly to set up a midfield. Today, we saw Ceballos shoehorned into a deep-lying role; he’s a neat and tidy player but much like Xhaka is not the right man here, neither is Ceballos. It left huge gaps in our midfield and we had very little in the way of transitional play – quickly moving the ball out from the back, that kind of thing. The trio of centre-backs should have given us more availability further up the pitch as one can always carry the ball from the back with the other two covering behind, but we rarely saw this deployed and the same cohesive problems persisted.

Martinelli continued his best Alexis Sanchez impression, as he careered around the pitch like a rabid bloodhound but for a change, he had a quiet afternoon in front of goal.

We seem to take great enjoyment in not learning from mistakes, as Vitória beat our offside trap not once but twice with consecutive free kicks from the left. Perhaps a Premier League side would’ve had the quality to actually punish us for what were unmarked headers. Not their day at the office either.

The Not-So-Grand Finale

After Ceballos’ hamstring went, I was interested to see if anything would change. Emery surely must have known about the issues and this was a perfect opportunity to make amends. Although it was a like for like swap in Guendouzi, the game becoming more stretched suited a player of his conditioning and he found himself in more advanced areas. In reality, not much actually changed.

I do wonder what Emery would’ve said had the game finished 0-0 – Mustafi’s goal was inconsequential in the grand scheme of things and I was much more concerned with how we played than the scoreline. We almost managed to get an away clean sheet (which could well be one of the harbingers of the apocalypse at this point) but that’s the only way you can see a positive spin – not conceding for 91 mins instead of 95. I was almost a bit sad to see Rochina’s Di Canio effort not find its way into the back of the net – it was a fantastic effort and that goal is my favourite Premier League goal not scored by an Arsenal player.

The final whistle came like the sweet release of death and that was that.

What’s Next

Heading into Saturday without the customary European romp will surely be leaving Emery even more uneasy than usual. Despite plenty of first team absentees, the kind of performance we saw tonight is hardly going to instil confidence. I don’t even know how to feel going into it – I don’t think a win is even in the realms of possibility at this point, so should I be hopeful that it’s the final nail in the coffin? It seems alien to even consider that as a fan, but the alternative is Emery surviving because we somehow scrape a draw, then playing Southampton and seeing us play like we did this afternoon against Vitória. One way or the other, it’s going to have talking points.

Until then.